Water Sight (Last of the Gifted)
Powell’s Last of the Gifted series covers a slice of history already immortalized in Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Trilogy and Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (both of which she lists as inspirations). In this YA treatment of 13th-century Welsh history, Powell relates the end of the reign of “Llywelyn the Last” and the waning days of Wales’s independence through the eyes of a gifted brother and sister, Hyw and Cat. The teens joined forces in the first volume of the series, Spirit Sight, to channel the spirit of the recently-assassinated Prince Llywelyn and resist the attempts by England’s king, Edward I, to claim the rich Welsh landscape for himself. The second volume picks up as Hyw, a shape-shifter, and Cat, an avatar of the prophetic Morrigan of Celtic myth, try to balance their otherworldly powers with their loyalty to their family and friends. Cat is newly betrothed, and Hyw is struggling to master his Gift; Wales is fragmenting under the English invasion. The dual narratives make for a fast-paced adventure as the English and Welsh factions chase each other around the picturesque mountains and castles of the myth-haunted land that Powell obviously loves.
The series clearly intends to introduce teen readers to the complexities of Welsh mythos, culture, and history, and Powell’s research is front and center. Characterization suffers for this a bit; the need to turn frequently to the character list and glossary might discourage some readers from being invested in the relationships that drive Cat and Hyw to ever more audacious acts of bravery. The Welsh are depicted as uniformly enlightened and humane, which somewhat glosses over the real-life ferocity of life in the borderlands. In particular, the universal approval they express about Hyw’s romantic feelings for his English foster-brother James seems a bit modern, no matter how welcome it is to see such representation in YA historical settings.